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Daniels v. Pitkins

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 6, 2017



          RICHARD P. CONABOY United States District Judge


         William M. Daniels, Jr., an inmate presently confined at the State Correctional Institution, Albion, Pennsylvania (SCI-Albion), filed this pro se civil rights action in the Centre County Court of Common Pleas by. An amended complaint was thereafter filed. See Doc. 2-1, p. 18. On December 15, 2014, Plaintiff's action was removed to this Court by Defendant Maria Leahy pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 (a).[1] See Doc. 1, ¶ 9. By Order dated June 26, 2015, Plaintiff's objections to the removal were denied.

         By Memorandum and Order dated August 19, 2015, Defendant Leahy's motion to dismiss was partially granted. See Doc. 10. Specifically, it was determined that Leahy was entitled to entry of dismissal with exception of the allegation that she failed to protect Plaintiff from unconstitutional conditions of confinement. See Doc. 24. By Memorandum and Order dated February 17, 2017, a motion for summary judgement by Defendant Leahy was granted. See Doc. 62.

         The surviving claims in the Amended Complaint regards events which allegedly transpired during Daniels' previous incarceration at the Benner State Correctional Institution, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania (SCI-Benner).[2] Remaining Defendants are the following SCI-Benner employees: Superintendent David Pitkins, Deputy Superintendents Tammy Ferguson and Leo Glass, Counselor Bobbi Jo Salamon, and Security Lieutenant Larry Hoffman.

         According to the Amended Complaint Daniels was suspected of swallowing contraband on April 25, 2014 after being kissed by a female visitor at SCI-Benner.[3] After the encounter between Plaintiff and his visitor, he was strip searched by a non-defendant, Lieutenant Green, and placed in a POC[4] cell which was set up as a dry cell, i.e. one with no running water. Daniels adds that he was given a suicide smock to wear, had one hand handcuffed to a bed and was provided with a blanket. Daniels was placed under constant surveillance and his bodily waste was examined in an effort to determine if he passed any contraband/drugs. The Plaintiff alleges that he initially told that after three clean bowl movements he would be released. Despite complying with that requirement, Daniels states that he remained in the dry cell until May 2, 2014. Plaintiff maintains that while in the dry cell he was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement because he was not allowed to clean himself for the first four days of his placement; was only provided with drinking water at meal time; and was subjected to constant illumination.

         As a result of prison's officials' alleged erroneous determination that Plaintiff had swallowed a balloon containing drugs, the inmate was issued a misconduct charging him with possession of contraband, refusing to obey an order, lying to an employee, failure to report the presence of contraband, and violation of visiting room regulations.[5] Daniels claims that because he was never issued a confiscation slip in accordance with prison policy and the unknown substance allegedly discovered in his stool was never identified, the finding of guilt on the misconduct charges was improper. Plaintiff contends that the disciplinary proceeding violated due process, and constituted a malicious prosecution. See id. at ¶ 66.

         The Amended Complaint also asserts that his dry cell placement violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause. See id. at ¶ 30. The final claim raised by Plaintiff is that he was the subject of a retaliatory transfer to the Security Threat Group Management Unit (STGMU) at another state correctional facility. Daniels asserts that although he was a leader of the Crips gang over twenty years earlier, said involvement did not warrant his transfer and that it was undertaken as retaliation and to coverup the meritless disciplinary charges he was issued at SCI-Benner.

         Presently pending is Remaining Defendants' motion seeking entry of summary judgment. See Doc. 43. The motion seeks entry of summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) Plaintiff has failed to show personal involvement by the Remaining Defendants in the alleged violations of his constitutional rights and the conditions of his dry cell placement were not unconstitutional; (2) the doctrine of sovereign immunity bars consideration of Plaintiff's state law claim of malicious prosecution;(3) they are entitled to qualified immunity; (4) the Amended Complaint does not raise viable due process and equal protection allegations; and (5) Plaintiff has not sufficiently plead a retaliation claim. The opposed motion is ripe for consideration.


         Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is proper if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); See also Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2001). A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 248. The court must resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact in favor of the non-moving party. Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232; see also Reeder v. Sybron Transition Corp., 142 F.R.D. 607, 609 (M.D. Pa. 1992). Unsubstantiated arguments made in briefs are not considered evidence of asserted facts. Versarge v. Township of Clinton, 984 F.2d 1359, 1370 (3d Cir. 1993).

         Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the claims of the non-moving party, the non-moving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in its complaint. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). Instead, it must "go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. (internal quotations omitted); see also Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (citations omitted). Summary judgment should be granted where a party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. " ''Such affirmative evidence - regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial - must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance.'" Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (quoting Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989)).

         Personal Involvement

         Remaining Defendants initially assert that Superintendent Pitkins, Deputy Superintendent Ferguson and Counselor Salamon did not have contact with Plaintiff during his eight (8) day dry cell placement. See Doc. 50, p. 9. They add that the Amended Complaint acknowledges that Deputy Superintendent Glass did not have any contact with Plaintiff in the dry cell until after the inmate had been permitted to wash up and was given a new smock and blanket. Finally, the Remaining Defendants note that the Amended Complaint alleges only that Lieutenant Hoffman was seen in the area of the dry cell. Based upon those considerations, Remaining Defendants conclude that since there are no viable assertions that they were involved or even aware of Daniels' challenged treatment, the Amended Complaint is improperly seeking to establish liability against them based upon their respective supervisory roles within the prison.

         A plaintiff, in order to state an actionable civil rights claim, must plead two essential elements: (1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of law, and (2) that said conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 638 (3d Cir. 1995); Shaw by Strain v. Strackhouse, 920 F.2d 1135, 1141-42 (3d Cir. 1990).

         Civil rights claims brought cannot be premised on a theory of respondeat superior. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Rather, each named defendant must be shown, via the complaint's allegations, to have been personally involved in the events or occurrences which underlie a claim. See Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); Hampton v. Holmesburg Prison Officials, 546 F.2d 1077 (3d Cir. 1976). As explained in Rode:

A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs. . . . [P]ersonal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence. Allegations of participation or actual knowledge and acquiescence, however, must be made with appropriate particularity.

Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207.

         Prisoners also have no constitutionally protected right to a grievance procedure. See Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union, Inc., 433 U.S. 119, 137-38 (1977) (Burger, C.J., concurring) ("I do not suggest that the [grievance] procedures are constitutionally mandated."); Speight v. Sims, No. 08-2038, 2008 WL 2600723 at *1 (3d. Cir. Jun 30, 2008) (citing Massey v. Helman, 259 F.3d 641, 647 (7th Cir. 2001) ("[T]he existence of a prison grievance procedure confers no liberty interest on a prisoner.")

         While prisoners do have a constitutional right to seek redress of their grievances from the government, that right is the right of access to the courts which is not compromised by the failure of prison officials to address an inmate's grievance. See Flick v. Alba, 932 F.2d 728, 729 (8th Cir. 1991) (federal grievance regulations providing for administrative remedy procedure do not create liberty interest in access to that procedure). Pursuant to those decisions, any attempt by Plaintiff to establish liability against Remaining Defendants based upon their handling of his administrative grievances or complaints does not support a constitutional claim. See also Alexander v. Gennarini, 144 Fed.Appx. 924, 925 (3d Cir. 2005)(involvement in post-incident grievance process not a basis for § 1983 liability); Prvor-El v. Kelly, 892 F.Supp. 261, 275 (D. D.C. 1995) (because prison grievance procedure does not confer any substantive constitutional rights upon prison inmates, the prison officials' failure to comply with grievance procedure is not actionable).

         In support of the lack of personal involvement argument, Superintendent Pitkins, Deputy Superintendent Ferguson and Counselor Salamon have each submitted declarations under penalty of perjury which similarly state that although they knew of Daniels' dry cell placement and the basis for it they were not aware and no one contacted them concerning Plaintiff s claims that he was not being allowed to wash his hands after urinating and defecating or of his concerns that urine and fecal matter was accumulating on his person, smock, and bedding. See Docs. 57-1, -57-2, & 57-4, ¶ ¶ 4- 7. Moreover, they did not recall having personal contact with Plaintiff while he was in the dry cell.

         Sworn declarations by Deputy Superintendent Glass and Lieutenant Hoffman states that although they did recall having contact with Plaintiff while he was in the dry cell (Glass on April 30, 2014) they also had not been contacted regarding any lack of hand washing related claim by Plaintiff. See Docs. 57-3, 57-5, ¶¶ 4-6

          Based upon this Court's review of the record, especially the Amended Complaint itself, it was a non-defendant, Lieutenant Green, who removed Plaintiff from the visitors' area, strip searched him and him handcuffed and placed in the dry cell. There is no allegation that Green was directed to do so by any of the Remaining Defendants. Plaintiff next indicates that it was Captain Anstead and ...

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